Why you should care

Because these long-lost stars of the ’90s are finally peeking out from the shadows.

Before Trey Songz or Chris Brown injected rap music’s street sensibilities into their music, we had the original bad boys of R&B: Jodeci. They were the antithesis of the clean-cut quartet Boys II Men. You made love to Boys II Men; you had raunchy, “don’t-kiss-your-children-with-that-mouth” sex to Jodeci. Boys II Men was love at first sight; Jodeci was a one-night stand in a seedy hotel.

In the early 1990s Jodeci existed as an edgy alternative with a heavy hip-hop influence — thanks largely to manager Sean “Diddy” Combs, then in the infancy of his moguldom. But numerous failed attempts at a reunion have plagued one of the all-time great R&B groups. So when it was announced that the band would be reuniting for the 2014 Soul Train Awards and promoting its first song release in 18 years, the news was understandably met with great enthusiasm tempered by enormous skepticism.

The 2014 Soul Train Awards air Sunday, Nov. 30, at 8 p.m. ET on Centric.

While Boyz II Men stayed relevant, kept their noses clean and took up residency on the Las Vegas strip, Jodeci’s new millennium was filled with destructive behavior as the group tried to live out its bad-boy image. Even brothers K-Ci and JoJo, who struck out on their own as a successful duo with ballads such as the wedding staple “All My Life,” were sucked into the pitfalls of success that led up to their 2010 rehab reality show Come Clean. A decade of reunion tours were canceled and, when the band did manage to perform, there would be episodes such as 2013’s travesty at the Wembley Arena or the drunken set that saw JoJo passing out mid-performance.

And yet, hope springs eternal among the R&B faithful. Not to take anything away from the legendary Kool & The Gang or Chris Brown taking the stage, but during the live taping of this year’s Soul Train Awards, it was all about Jodeci’s first television performance in more than a decade. When the silhouettes of K-Ci, JoJo, Mr. Dalvin and DeVante Swing emerged and the instrumental of “Freek’n You” rang out of the speakers, the audience held its breath waiting to see whether Jodeci had finally cleaned up its act.

Jodeci on the red carpet at the Billboard Music Awards on December 8, 1992 in Universal City, California.

Jodeci at the Billboard Music Awards on Dec. 8, 1992, in Universal City, Calif.

Source Ron Galella/Getty

Dressed in their trademark all black with black boots to match, the quartet glided to the front of the stage. JoJo wore his signature Chicago White Sox hat and swung a white towel as he powered through the hook of the 1995 song that likely helped conceive more than its fair share of children. Despite having aged a bit and that awkward hairstyle that DeVante Swing was sporting, they looked good. They sounded good. Like, straight-off-the-album good. A little too good.

As JoJo lay on the ground cooing the song’s hook, it became obvious that the perfection of vocals filling up the Orleans Arena was a tad manufactured. The quartet’s understandably rusty vocals were salvaged by an original track backing them up, but the audience appeared ready to forgive. The crowd of mostly 30-somethings swayed and sang along to classics such as “Stay.” The groove stuttered when Atlanta rapper B.o.B. raced onto the stage to assist with Jodeci’s new single “Nobody Wins.” The song wasn’t necessarily bad, but it sounded like Jodeci trying to fit into today’s R&B landscape, not separate itself from it.

… a song that likely helped conceive more than its fair share of children.

Still, the performance is well worth tuning in for, and even if the new single doesn’t reignite a comeback, the bad boys from Charlotte, North Carolina, have reminded us of their influence on today’s generation of R&B bad boys. We’ll always have those glory days, and this playlist of brilliant baby-making music keeps them frozen in time just as we want to remember them.

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